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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Parents: 19 Meaningful Questions You Should Ask Your Child's Teacher

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Back-to-school content is usually focused on teachers and students, and as these two groups will have the largest workload ahead of them, that makes sense.

But for students, the ultimate support system is not an expert teacher, but an informed and supportive family. One of the most significant challenges facing formal education in the United States is the chasm separating schools and communities. The more informed a family is, the more seamlessly they'll connect to so many other edu-constructs, from extracurricular activities and tutoring to reading programs and school-related events.

While schools (hopefully) work to update themselves and the way students learn within them, many parents have to work with what's available to them. With the exception of in-depth content like Edutopia's guides, much of the "parent stuff" you'll find through Googling is decent enough, but it can be surface level or otherwise completely unrelated to process of learning. Some common examples:

  • "Ask them what they did today."
  • "Help them with homework."
  • "Help them with separation anxiety."
  • "Talk to them about their struggles."
  • "Get them a tutor."

But these kind of topical interactions aren't always enough, nor do they do anything at all to create transparency between schools and communities.

So, in pursuit of that transparency, below are some questions to better clarify what's happening in the classroom, and then help you decide on the kind of non-superficial actions you can perform at home to truly support the learning of your child. Many of the questions may seem a bit direct, but I don't know any teachers who would take offense to them. In fact, most of my colleagues would welcome the kind of added capacity that questions like these could lead to. Many of these questions are rarely the subject of parent-teacher interactions, but -- well, that's kind of the point.

Just don't ask them all at once. In fact, maybe pick two and hope for the best.

19 Questions Your Child’s Teacher Would (Probably) Love to Answer

  1. What academic standards do you use, and what do I need to know about them?
  2. How will you respond if or when my child struggles in class?
  3. What are the most important and complex (content-related) ideas my child needs to understand by the end of the year?
  4. Do you focus on strengths or weaknesses?
  5. How are creativity and innovative thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
  6. How is critical thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
  7. How are assessments designed to promote learning rather than simple measurement?
  8. What can I do to support literacy in my home?
  9. What kinds of questions do you suggest that I ask my children on a daily basis about your class?
  10. How exactly is learning personalized in your classroom? In the school?
  11. How do you measure academic progress?
  12. What are the most common instructional or literacy strategies you will use this year?
  13. What learning models do you use (e.g., project-based learning, mobile learning, game-based learning, etc.), and what do you see as the primary benefits of that approach?
  14. What are the best school or district resources that we should consider using as a family to support our child in the classroom?
  15. Is there technology you'd recommend that can help support my child in self-directed learning?
  16. What are the most common barriers you see to academic progress in your classroom?
  17. How is education changing?
  18. How do you see the role of the teacher in the learning process?
  19. What am I not asking but should be?

And when you get interesting or surprising answers to these questions, please share them in the comments section below.

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Nell Foster's picture

I find the wording of many of these questions dance a fine line between 'understanding' and 'challenging and questioning' the teacher, and in a pretty agressive way. Many of them would require an indepth, lengthy answer, not a 2 or 3 line soundbite and what works for one child, won't work for another. Also, a parent doesn't necessarily have the professional background to genuinely evaluate answers to some of these questions (I am thinking especially 11-13). At a certain point, just as we trust our doctor's training, we have to trust the teacher's training and accept that we cannot know and understand every single thing that goes on and the rationale behind every decision. This list tastes a little of that kind of motivation.

That is not to say that this is privileged information that should not be shared with parents. Far from it. I am a huge advocate of positive parent-teacher relationships and maximum transparency but many of these are questions that I would expect a fellow professional to be asking me, not a parent. The content is excellent but I would reframe the questions to put them back towards teachers - ie. do you provide the parents with answers to some of these kinds of questions, and if not, you should be doing so.

Kate Johnson's picture

I enjoyed the list, and considered if I, as an educator, could answer all of them. I doubt that most parents would understand my answer to some of them, and some of them, particularly "creativity" can actually be counter productive in a classroom. The teachers who are the most fun or even the most liked often don't produce the most learning. See John Hallie's Visible Learning meta analysis of what works in school. Answers to several of the questions are available on the district website if parents are really interested, rather than taking up a teacher's time to try to explain it. Be careful of focusing on what is "in" in education, rather than what works.

jhannah's picture

from an educational frame of reference these valuable questions may be useful as a preliminary view about how educators attitudes towards students and the families influence relationships. Having that alternative angle may prove useful. Thankyou sounds like a restorative method from which to build reciprocity between all concerned about the educational freedom to learn about each other.

ar's picture

What a brilliant way to ensure parents and teachers are on the same page regarding students' education! Just as understanding the process of solving a math problem is critical to reaching the correct answer, understanding at least some of the behind-the-scenes action that takes place in a classroom -- or in the education system as a whole -- is critical if parents hope to enhance their students' learning experiences at home. The list of questions in this article gives way to transparency in communication between parents and teachers. Transparent communication between educators and parents may feel uncomfortable at times but, more often than not, will ultimately lead to a greater education for the most important person in the equation: the student.

Kay.Janon's picture

I'm a middle school teacher who tries to teach language arts to 180 students EACH day. If a parent started asking me all those questions I don't know what I'd do. Even if they emailed me.
Perhaps, PERHAPS, an elementary teacher could take the time to talk to 25-30 parents in depth, but even then, I sort of think "get over yourself."
I'm a good teacher who cares. I work 10-hour days regularly and most weekends. (Some call me a great teacher.) I've won awards. Kids return to see me regularly. So, it's not that I'm lazy or ineffective; I'm just realistic.

BioTeachFHS's picture

With 7 quick 10 minute blocks with 5 minute passing periods as the format for our high school back to school night there is no time for parent questions. With a student load of 180 and back to school night happening about 3-4 weeks into the school year I have JUST got about 90% of the kids names memorized. These are interesting questions for teachers to think about as regards reflecting on their teaching practice. A lot of these questions are extremely open ended and would require hours of thought and reflection. Some are not possible to answer without the student engaging in a lot more reflection about their own learning than they are likely to be capable of and giving you the teacher specific feedback. A lot of the questions if they were to be answered appropriately would require a systematic restructuring of the education system in America. Something outside the control of all teachers.

Andrea's picture

What an interesting list of questions. I liked reading it as a parent and as a teacher.

Socrates's picture

My question is for the parents: What are you doing at home to support your child's education? Educating is collaborative and it takes more than firing a list of challenging questions and expecting an answer. The type of parent who attends open house, parent teacher conferences, or communicates with the teacher directly already is the type of parent who would ask these questions. And simply asking these questions does not make you a good parent. What this article fails to focus on is what the parents should do with the information from teacher responses. It's a similar concept to new expecting parents who buy baby books about child rearing. Just buying the books doesn't make you a good parent. The fact that you are the type of parent who would buy the books in the first place is part of it, but also what you do with that information. Lastly, at the middle school and high school level, responsibility falls heavily on the student. Parents need to ask: is my child fulfilling their job as the student? How is my child's behavior? It's usually the type of parents who don't ask "this list of questions" whose children are difficult to teach because of behavior and lacking social skills. There needs to be age appropriate accountability and teachers need to know how the parent will support them.

Mike Shirk's picture

These questions were written by a curriculum coordinator, not someone who interacts with children on a daily basis. These are basically the same questions asked at my last job interview. A parent is not there to interview the teacher for a job - they've already got the job. No parent would seriously use this kind of eduspeak. Parents reading this should ask questions about how the child is performing and socializing both at home and at school, how the parent and teacher can cooperate to support the child in the future, and how they can best stay in touch. There are lots of questions that can be asked along those lines that will lead to real world benefits for the child.

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